Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dinner | Burger & Barrel Winepub

After reading a bunch of press I had seen (first in Grub Street), I was dying to try Burger & Barrel Winepub (aka B&B), mainly because the same group behind Lure Fishbar had newly opened it very recently (three weeks prior to my actual visit). As I'm a big fan of the décor and experience I had at Lure Fishbar (as I've mentioned before in my post on Marea), I wanted to see what other tricks the restaurant creators had up their sleeves.

I wanted to surprise Marcus with a new place to eat last Friday, so I thought it would be perfect to try out B&B on a Friday night as its name boasts it to be a winepub, which I found to be intriguing, as public houses (i.e., where pub actually comes from) tends to focus on beer/ales/ciders on draft, not necessarily wine. Incidentally, the restaurant's name is derived from the main features on its menu--burgers and local wine on tap (thus, the barrel in its name). I liked the concept, so I thought it was worth checking out.

A couple days before I planned to take Marcus here, I read this article in Serious Eats about the supposed new "It" burger. I didn't want to read too much about it (as TV as in food, I still believe in avoiding spoilers at all costs), but definitely wanted to come see for myself. All I knew was that it contained white truffles in some way and that it cost a whopping $45 a pop.

I underestimated the popularity of this place--being that it just opened, I thought Marcus and I could waltz right in a little before 8 PM and just get a table. Major fail on my part as there were no empty tables, and the bar was completely lined with people. Just as a warning, B&B does NOT take reservations. It has a first come, first served policy (contrary to its website which offers an option to "Book a Table"), but I think they do take reservations for large parties.

Guests who are waiting for the next available table are invited to wait by the bar (you can also opt to eat the bar, but the menu is limited to certain plates), so we both got a drink each while we were waiting and chatting. The restaurant has a dark interior and is very lowly lit at night, with selected areas that are lit for emphasis, creating a striking dramatic contrast. The walls above the bar area are lined with shelves filled with endless bottles of wine (and occasional black chalkboard every so often) throughout the restaurant's circumference (see above photograph).

After about thirty minutes of waiting, Marcus and I were able to get closer to the bar (as I was able to score a seat). The restaurant's main dining room surrounds the open bar area, so it is very open. On the Daily Specials board (see above photograph), the "White Truffle Burger" is advertised with particular emphasis by the stars on both ends, where the "spotlight" on the center of the "Daily Specials" board really should have shone solely on the starred burger instead. I had told Marcus about how this is the new "It" burger and how I wasn't sure if it would be worth it to order because of the steep price. I tried to keep it a secret (i.e., the actual menu price for the burger), but that didn't last too long. There were two bartenders working that night (Farran and Sarah, who were great and super helpful). Marcus asked Farran if the white truffle burger was worth ordering, and without hesitation, Farran reported that this was in fact true, as he said he's had it a few times already, splitting it with the bar and waitstaff. Also, he was the one who (unwittingly) ratted me out on the burger's contentious price, as he casually replied to Marcus, "It's totally worth every bite. I mean, it's definitely great to order with a group of four so that everyone can have a taste of it. In fact, we encourage that. So even after splitting it among four, it'd be roughly $11 per person--not bad at all."

The cat was out of the bag--I couldn't keep Marcus in the dark any longer. You see, he is quite quick with numbers. I was still on the fence about ordering it at all, so I was pretty sure this would sway us in a more prudent direction. But instead of the "have-you-gone-mad" reaction and the "are-you-effing-insane" rant I was expecting, he looked at me the same way he looked at the counter girl at Madeleine Patisserie, the day we ordered every macaron flavor available, and said, with no reservations, "Let's order it."

I really liked the neat use of the black chalkboards throughout the restaurant, particularly this quotation by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which was very appropriate being that it was a winepub: "Wine is a food." I love restaurants that give things like this some thought.

Per another recommendation from Farran, I ordered a glass of the Château Bel-Air-Ouy "Grand Cru" from Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux with a 2000 vintage. He told us that this would go very well with the white truffle burger, so in the spirit of splurging this night on gastro-grub, I basically said, "Screw it," closed my eyes, and allowed myself to enjoy a $30 glass of wine. I had Marcus try a sip, leading him to say this was probably the best glass of wine he's ever had. I will have to agree with him on that. It was very smooth and rich, and for someone who still has much to learn about wine, I could definitely tell the 10-year vintage had developed a very complex flavor and depth, which I really enjoyed even by itself, before the food arrived.

We started off the meal with chicken lollipops with ancho chili barbecue marinade. The chicken was the "candy" part, and its bone was the "lollipop stick". The meat was very soft and flavorful. It was almost a little too spicy for me but still very enjoyable. A gourmet take on token bar "buffalo wings".

And the feature dish you've all been waiting for: the infamous white truffle burger! Serving the burger with fries, a side of truffle aioli, and onion rings, Chef Josh Capon (the mastermind behind this "new" burger) used beef supplied by Pat La Frieda, a local meat purveyor. And now for your spoiler alert (may the drooling commence): on top of this medium rare burger is melted robiola (an Italian soft-ripened cheese) and some shaved white truffles, perfectly doused with a homemade truffle aioli (made from truffle shavings and leftover peelings). I really like how the above photographs turned out--very dramatic, if I do say so myself. It was very fortunate for us that the mâitre d' sat us in a booth, though with much sinkage, that had really, really good lighting. It just so happened that the light shone right at the center of our table, permitting my camera to capture very decent photographs that, in any other circumstances, would not have done the documentation of the food eaten that night any justice. The burger tasted as what the perfect burger should--a medium-rare center that manifests itself to be succulent, slightly bloody, practically melting in your mouth. And the savoriness of the black truffle--a continuous umami eruption with each and every bite! It was the kind of richness you'd imagine yourself to only be able to reach what I like to call "foodie nirvana" (more commonly known as a taste/food-induced orgasm), the kind exhibited by Meg Ryan with that sandwich she ordered in that acclaimed scene from When Harry Met Sally. Chef Capon did not overdo the aioli or the shavings of the black truffle (not that one could afford to, anyway), as it paired agreeably with the beef. Add the 2000 vintage Bordeaux, and you've got yourself a great Friday night meal at the gastropub of all gastropubs (if such a title could exist). Destination: food coma.

The accompanying entrée we ordered in tandem with the burger was the short rib ravioli with braised short rib and ricotta salata. While Marcus enjoyed the burger almost as much as I did, he actually found the ravioli to be great as well. The short rib meat was braised to the right texture, and the hearty sauce served with the ravioli appeared to have been the braising sauce used for the short rib meat. The cheese sprinkled on top and the ricotta on the inside was light and gave a nice creaminess to the robust flavors of the sauce and meaty interior. The ravioli was a good amount past al dente (Italian for "to the tooth"), the perfect consistency for such an enveloping pasta.

Findings: Please go with three friends to Burger & Barrel and order the white truffle burger before it's gone (anticipated month of menu extinction indefinitely, or until black truffles are back in season next year, is January). It is totally worth it, especially as an appetizer split with a party of four! Also, the splurge on the Bordeaux is also a must--it's as if the burger and the Bordeaux go hand in hand. And if you do decide to do live on the edge and do something crazy for once, please go to B&B early--chances are if you dilly-dally (as we did), it'll take you an hour to get a table and another half hour to get your burger. The service is pretty good, and the bartenders are fun to talk to. And if the white truffle burger is gone by the time you make it to B&B, don't fret! It seems like everything is delicious there, so you can't go wrong ordering something else (when in doubt, ask the bartenders and the servers)! P. S. I'm still having dreams about that burger, and I fully admit that I may have drooled while writing parts of this post.

Price point: $30 for glass of Bordeaux (2000 vintage); $10 for for the table dish; $18 for entrée; $45 for the daily special.

--November 5, 2010

Burger & Barrel (B&B) Winepub
25 West Houston Street
New York, NY 10012

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